«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
Starr‘s scouting party appeared to have a fairly specific list of local targets provided by John C. Canty the spy from the Buffalo Seventh Fenian Regiment11 who had been living in Fort Erie for six months12 and employed as a section foreman on the Grand Trunk railway line. He had been meticulously collecting intelligence and surveying the regional topography, ferries, bridges, railway junctions, roads and telegraph systems.13 It was probably Canty who acquired and supplied the Fenians with detailed road maps of Welland County which were readily available even in schools.14 During the invasion Canty would serve as O‘Neill‘s chief-of-staff and intelligence officer, while his house in Fort Erie was used to stockpile weapons and later to shelter Fenians.15 Starr‘s advance unit had entered Fort Erie at daybreak—sunrise had been at 4:40 that morning.16 They immediately sought out and took prisoner the five unarmed soldiers of the Royal Canadian Rifles and their NCO Corporal Nolan.17 They also seized the passenger and carriage ferry docks but did not seize the ferry boat itself which continued to run hourly taking Canadian refugees to Buffalo and presumably bringing back unarmed Fenian reinforcements sneaking by U.S. inspectors.18 The ferry continued to operate throughout the next day as the battle unfolded at Ridgeway.19 The superintendent of the B. & L.H.
Cruikshank, p. 21 Cruikshank, p. 26 Dennis Statement, October 27, 1866, p. 2, [in Dennis Inquiry appended at p. 345:] Proceedings of the Court of Inquiry Upon the Circumstances of the Engagement at Fort Erie on the 2 nd of June 1866, Adjutant General‘s Correspondence; Correspondence relating to complaints, courts martial and inquiries, RG9-I-C-8, Volume 7. LAC.
Grand Trunk in Buffalo—R. Calvert—kept Larmour up-to-date by telegraph of Fenian movements there. Larmour was in Brantford on Thursday night when Calvert telegraphed him that the Fenians were apparently assembling for some ―important move.‖ 20 Larmour decided to catch the first train through Brantford and arrived at Fort Erie railway ferry dock at 4:00 A.M.
As the train and its passengers were rolled onto the ferry, one of the Canadian customs officers, Mr. Treble came running from town in a panic crying, ―The Fenians have landed in the village and are killing everybody.‖21 Larmour ordered the International to immediately embark with the train and passengers aboard but to remain in midstream without landing in Buffalo where he feared her seizure by Fenians. Mobilizing all the railway employees available, Larmour ordered every railroad car to be coupled in a long single line to three locomotives and barely managed to escape with them from the railway depot in sight of Starr‘s advancing units.22 Fenian Captain Geary of the Seventeenth Kentucky Regiment and several men gave chase to the train in a hand-cart but could not overtake it. Nonetheless, Geary continued west along the railway behind the train to Six Mile Creek, about a mile and a half before the town of Ridgeway. There Geary set fire to Sauerwein‘s Bridge across the creek and pulled up a portion of the railway track cutting off the western rail approach from Ridgeway before returning to Fort Erie.23 Back in Fort Erie, Starr cut telegraph lines into Canada while keeping the connection to Buffalo intact. He then began taking control of the town and its residents and foraging for horses, provisions and supplies.
Robert Larmour, ―With Booker‘s Column‖, [Part 1] Canadian Magazine, Vol. 10, no. 2 (Dec. 1897). p. 122 Larmour [Part 1], p. 122 Captain Macdonald, p. 29; Larmour [Part 1], p. 123 Owen, p. 17 The Fenian Irish Republican Army Order of Battle, Supply and Strength at Fort Erie As Starr‘s advance party was moving towards Fort Erie, the second wave consisting of O‘Neill‘s main force of about 600 to 800 Fenians and nine wagons of arms had been boarding the four chartered barges back in Buffalo at Pratt‘s Dock. They set out at approximately at 3:15 A.M.— about ninety minutes before dawn.24 Upon disembarking in Canada, O‘Neill dispatched some of Lt. Colonel Hoy‘s 100 Buffalo Fenians north down Niagara Road away from Fort Erie to seize control of the road and railway approaches in that direction from the landing zone.25 Hoy‘s men now sealed off the approach from Chippawa in the north. The main force of the Fenians under O‘Neill now poured into the town of Fort Erie while the third wave would trickle in smaller parties by various means over the next six hours until the U.S. Navy cut off further Fenians crossings with the arrival of the U.S.S. Michigan at Lower Black Rock towards noon.
The Fenian force referred to themselves as the Irish Republican Army—the IRA, a very early use, if not the first use of this nomenclature.26 Depending upon their unit, they wore an assortment of U.S. Army uniforms with green facing, Irish-green tunics with brass buttons emblazoned with ―I.R.A.‖, green shirts and U.S. Army trousers while some were reported wearing grey Confederate Army tunics.27 Most were simply dressed in civilian clothes and black felt hats with green scarves. John O‘Neill himself was reportedly wearing ―drab‖ civilian dress and was described by one witness afterwards at the Fenian trials as ―a gentleman-like man, pale and freckled; more like a dry-goods clerk than the leader of a marauding party.‖28 Somerville, p.14; Cruickshank, p. 21 Cruikshank, p. 28 D‘Arcy, pp. 229-230 Charles Clarke to McMicken, May 31, 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237, p. 103840 [Reel C1663] LAC; Joseph Newbigging, testimony, Queen v. John McMahon; Thomas L. Newbigging, testimony, Queen v. Robert B. Lynch, DFUSCT roll 1 Thomas L. Newbigging, testimony, Queen v. Robert B. Lynch, DFUSCT roll 1 This is as close to proximity of a complete Fenian order of battle as I was able to assemble:29 General John O‘Neill (Nashville), commander;
Colonel George Owen Starr, second-in-command;
Major John C. Canty (Fort Erie, C.W.), chief of staff/intelligence;
Lieutenant Rudolph Fitzpatrick, aid-de-camp.
1. O‘Neill‘s Thirteenth Regiment of Nashville Tennessee (115 men), commanded by Captain Lawrence Shields, (Nashville) with Captain Philip Mundy, (Chattanooga), Captain McDonald (Pulaski), Lieutenant James J. Roach, (Nashville) and Lieutenant John Maguire (Nashville) and reinforced by 200 men from Memphis under Captain Michael Conlon (Memphis),30 (total 315 men);
2. Seventh Regiment of Buffalo ―Irish Army of Liberation‖ commanded by thirtyfour year old Colonel John Hoy, a former first lieutenant in the 179th New York Volunteers, with Lt. Colonel Michael Bailey (Buffalo), Captain John M. Fogarty, (Buffalo), Captain William V. Smith (Buffalo), Lieutenant Edward Lonergan (Buffalo), and Color Sergeant John Smith (Buffalo), of company ‗G‘ (apx. 100 men, a conservatively low estimate considering Buffalo‘s proximity to the scene of action);
3. Seventeenth Regiment of Louisville, Kentucky, uniformed in blue army jackets with green facings and led by O‘Neill‘s second in command, Colonel George Owen Starr, with Lieutenant Colonel John Spaulding (Louisville), Captain Timothy O‘Leary (Louisville), Captain John Geary (Lexington, Kentucky), Lieutenant Patrick J. Tyrrell Reid, Appendix C, p. 378; O‘Neill, Official Report, p. 38; Captain Macdonald, p. 26; Cruickshank, p. 20, p. 28;
Scian Dubh [James McCarroll], pp. 164-165; Benedict Maryniak, The Fenian Raid and Battle of Ridgeway June 1http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~dbertuca/g/FenianRaid.html [retrieved October 2008] Chewett, p. 29 (Louisville), and Lieutenant Michael Boland, (Louisville), (144 men); and attached to the Seventeenth were also two infantry companies from Terre Haute, Indiana under Captain Hugh [James] Haggerty (Indianapolis), and Color Sergeant Michael Cochrane, (100
4. Eighteenth Regiment ―Cleveland Rangers‖ under Captain Buckley (Cleveland) and Lieutenant Timothy Lavan (Cleveland), (strength unknown);
5. Nineteenth Regiment Cincinnati ―Irish Republic Volunteers‖ (120 men),31 both units from Ohio dressed in green caps and green shirts led by Lt. Colonel John Grace (Cincinnati), with Captain Sam Sullivan (Cincinnati) and Lieutenant John J. Geoghan (Cincinnati) and Captain Donohue commanding a company of mounted scouts of unknown strength; approximate total strength: 220 men;
unknown strength riding horses seized on the Canadian side.33 A Canadian secret service agent in Buffalo, John McLaughlin reported that the Fenians had five large double wagons and four furniture wagons with ammunition and 1,500 stand of Proceedings of a Court of Inquiry held in Hamilton on Tuesday the 3 rd day of July A.D. 1866 by order of His Excellency the Commander-in-chief on the application of Lieutenant Colonel Booker to examine and report on the circumstances connected with the late engagement at Lime Ridge, dated Ottawa, June 24, 1866. Adjutant General‘s Correspondence; Correspondence relating to complaints, courts martial and inquiries, RG9-I-C-8, Volume
6. LAC. [Page referenced to reprint in Captain Macdonald and hereinafter as ―Booker Inquiry‖.] p. 216 Eugene Courtney to John Grace, May 22, 1866; Sweeny Official Report, September 1866: Sweeny Papers;
Louisiana Tigers and confederate uniforms see: The Irish Canadian, June 6, 1866. p. 3 Reid, Appendix C, p. 378; O‘Neill, Official Report, p. 38; Captain Macdonald, p. 26; Cruickshank, p. 20, p. 28;
Scian Dubh [James McCarroll], pp. 164-165; Benedict Maryniak, The Fenian Raid and Battle of Ridgeway June 1http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~dbertuca/g/FenianRaid.html [retrieved October 2008] arms, a ―stand‖ being a rifle plus bayonet, scabbard, ammunition-cap cases and belts.34 Other sources estimated that 2,500 arms were taken into Canada, as the Fenians had anticipated support from local sympathizers to whom some of the arms would be distributed.35 The extra weapons were also intended for delivery in Canada to smaller arriving parties of unarmed Fenians slipping by U.S. customs inspectors on other points along the frontier.
So huge was the Fenian surplus of arms that in the morning before the Battle of Ridgeway, they destroyed a large portion of it. At least 250 or 300 rifles were thrown into fires and smashed against apple trees because, according to one witness ―they had more rifles than men.‖36 Another witness recalled discovering 40 rifles and 19,000 rounds of ammunition thrown into Frenchman‘s Creek in bayonet punctured crates.37 So many rifles were abandoned that a company of Canadian volunteers the next day in pursuit of Fenians suddenly ground to a halt while some of its men dove into the water to retrieve souvenir rifles.38 The ammunition boxes were all found marked ―Watervelt Arsenal, State of New York, 1000 ball cartridges, 1864 extra good‖ and the rifles were engraved ―Bridesburg‖ respectively the arsenals at Watervelt in Troy, New York and Bridesburg, Philadelphia.39 The Fenians were better armed and supplied than the Canadian militia sent to stop them.
The actual number of Fenians who crossed into Canada has never been conclusively determined and has been estimated as low as 600 to as high as 2,000. The problem is that the Fenians crossed at different points and different times between midnight and noon the next day, with observers making counts and estimates at different locations and times. A local resident McLaughlin to McMicken, 31 May 1866, MG26 A, Volume 237, pp. 103838 to 103845 [Reel C1663] LAC Captain John A. Macdonald, Troublous Times in Canada, Toronto: [s.n.] 1910. p. 28 Joseph Newbigging, Testimony, Judge‘s Notes, The Queen v. William Havin, DFUSCT roll 1 Somerville, p. 38 Dennis Inquiry pp. 221-222 Thomas L. Newbigging, Testimony, Judge‘s Notes, The Queen v. Robert B. Lynch, 24 October 1866, DFUSCT roll 1 who watched them land later testified that they ―did not exceed 1000 men.‖40 A Canadian smuggler and former scout in the Union Army during the Civil War now living in Fort Erie, Sam Johnston, claimed that he spied on the road between the town and the landing site a column of Fenians eight men to a rank. ―I counted the columns and there were one hundred and thirty-six.
At that rate there were one thousand and eighty-eight men.‖41 Another witness testified he saw 1,500 but that they were ―marching four abreast.‖42 Johnston‘s careful count presumably did not include Starr‘s advance party of 244 who by this time were advancing up the B. & L.H.